For Wolf-Gordon curator and chief creative officer Marybeth Shaw, AI technologies like DALL-E and Midjourney ignited exploration of how AI would interpret prompts driven by human creativity. It’s a topical question: What is the role of human spontaneity and inventiveness in an era where generative AI can mimic these traits in a fraction of the time? In the hands of Shaw and design director Michael Loughlin, that question is regarded with care and deep concern. The thought experiment led to Project: HI > AI, Wolf-Gordon’s exhibition of artist-designed wallcovering patterns, juxtaposed with AI-generated counterparts.
Shaw assembled a team of seven multidisciplinary creatives and commissioned wallcovering patterns and detailed descriptions of the visuals and themes inherent in their designs. Shaw gave them the prompt to imagine how Björk’s song “Human Behavior” would differ if AI were surveilling humans. Armed with the commissions and accompanying text about them, Shaw and Loughlin engaged DALL-E and Midjourney, testing the AIs’ capacity to recreate each pattern with precise instruction.
The results should quell the minds of the AI-anxious among us: no amount of tinkering or prompt-finessing yielded replicas of the artist-designed wallcoverings. As participating artist and calligrapher Jen Mussari insightfully noted during Wolf-Gordon’s NYCxDesign panel this past spring, “I think the best part about AI is that when it’s a tool used by an artist, it creates something cool. And when it’s a tool used in spite of an artist, it creates something kind of soulless.”
Below, see each artist-created wallcovering and its AI counterpart, which viewable online at the company’s website and at Wolf-Gordon’s New York headquarters (333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY) through December 2023. Acknowledgements: participating artists Christine Tarkowski, Jen Mussari, Frank Tjepkema, Raylene Marasco, Pat Pruitt, Hilary Lorenz, and Ghislaine Viñas.